Too Much TV: Your TV Talking Points For Monday, August 8th, 2022
Returning like a vaguely creepy vampire, Dan Schneider is back in the news.
Here's everything you need to know about the world of television for Monday, August 8th, 2022.
THE PERSON WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED
Former Nickelodeon teen star Jeanette McCurdy has a new autobiography coming out next week and ahead of the release of "I'm Glad My Mom Died," she did an interview with Washington Post reporter Ashley Spencer. She had a lot to talk about it, including her relationship with a Nickelodeon showrunner she declined to name. Although it's clear that she is discussing Dan Schneider, the man who created and was showrunner for her hit shows iCarly and Sam & Cat:
In her memoir, McCurdy refers only to "The Creator" when detailing her experiences on set, leaving out a name. The vague moniker is one she just “kind of thought was funny,” she said. “I wanted some laughter around that, specifically because I know there’s so much tension there.”
Day to day, she wrote, The Creator" was “mean-spirited, controlling, and terrifying,” firing children over basic mistakes and making “grown men and women cry with his insults and degradation.” His intermittent praise, like that of her mother, came with strings and fear, “Tomorrow he might be screaming insults in my face that will hurt me just as much as the compliments raise me up.”
She recalled occasions where he provided an unsolicited shoulder massage and pressured her to sip his alcohol-spiked coffee when she was 18, while he lamented that “the ‘iCarly’ kids are so wholesome.”
According to McCurdy, after allegations of emotional abuse, “The Creator” was eventually forbidden from being on set with any actors and operated out of what she described in her book as a “cave-like room to the side of the sound stage, surrounded by piles of cold cuts, his favorite snack, and Kids’ Choice Awards blimps, his most cherished life accomplishment.”
“My heart starts beating fast. It makes me angry,” she said over lunch. “But it’s important to talk about. It was so commonplace, his behavior, and it was so accepted because everyone was scared of losing their job. I don’t blame any of them. I get it. But it was really unfortunate, everything that happened in a children’s television series environment. It really seems like there’s not much of a moral compass there.”
I obviously have no idea why McCurdy refers to Schneider only as "The Creator" in the book, although I do have a suspicion.
Like a number of other journalists, I had been hearing informal stories about Schneider for years. But none of us could put together a story that could be published, in large part because of NDAs and a general concern of what it would mean to the careers of anyone who would go on the record. There was a widespread perception that if backed into a corner, Viacom executives would go to almost any length to not admit there had been a problem or that the company had any culpability in what happened.
When Nickelodeon and Schneider announced they were severing their business relationship, I decided to give the story another go. I eventually spoke to more than 50 people who had worked with Schneider, ranging from Viacom executives to lower-level crew members. Of the 30 or so people who agreed to talk about their experiences, not one person would talk on the record. Some would only talk off the record.
There were a variety of reasons why that was the case. Some had signed NDAs and had agreed not to talk about their experiences. Some people were wary of saying anything that might possibly brand them as "troublemakers," despite their having experienced behavior that should not be tolerated in this industry. Especially when it happened over multiple years.
In the Washington Post interview, McCurdy describes an effort by Nickelodeon to buy her silence as she left the network:
Sam & Cat soon imploded, and when the series was canceled after 36 episodes in 2014, it came with an unexpected proposal. McCurdy said she was told that Nickelodeon would offer her a $300,000 “thank-you gift” if she agreed to never talk publicly about her experiences at the network, specifically in relation to the behavior of “The Creator.” “This feels to me like hush money,” McCurdy wrote she said at the time. She turned it down on the spot.
A representative for Nickelodeon declined to comment. Requests for comment from Schneider’s agent were not returned.
I spoke with a star from one of Schneider's shows who just wanted to put her experiences behind her and like McCurdy, had been offered a "thank-you" parting gift when her show ended. She told me that if Schneider was still active working in the industry, she would feel differently. "But I've moved after a lot of therapy," she explained. "I would do what I could to keep anyone else from experiencing that, but why open myself up to the attention if it won't help anyone at this point?"
I finished a nearly 6,500-word piece that didn't identify anyone publicly, but it did present a pretty comprehensive overview of Schneider's behavior over the years. I asked an editor friend to take a look at the piece, because I knew it was going to receive a great deal of attention. As he was doing some fact-checking, I heard from a law firm who warned me in no uncertain terms that if I published the piece, I would be sued.
Given the experiences of outlets such as Gawker, that's not an empty threat. Even mainstream print publications have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars successfully defending their reporting. It wasn't just the fact that I couldn't afford the legal battle that concerned me. It was that a likely outcome would be I would be forced to make the lawsuit go away by issuing a statement claiming my reporting was flawed. It would let the guilty parties off the hook forever.
So ultimately I posted a few much more vaguely-reported pieces and over the past couple of years have pointed other reporters who work for larger publications in the right direction after they reached out to me on the subject.
I don't think Dan Schneider would sue Jeanette McCurdy. But I suspect the calculation is that by doing a wink-and-nod about the identity of "The Creator," the focus will remain on her book and she won't be dragged into some PR battle with her former boss.
As an FYI. here are a few of the pieces I wrote over the years:
* 03/28/2018: Dan Schneider's Exit From Nickelodeon Leaves Many Answered Questions
* 04/02/2018: Former Viacom Exec: 'I Never Saw Any Evidence' Of Sexual Misconduct With Dan Schneider
* 04/04/2018: #Pizzagate, Hollywood And The Great #Pedogate Conspiracy
* 09/22/2018: Guest Column: 'This Is Me Screaming'
* 05/20/2020: Whatever Happened To Dan Schneider?
* 05/23/2021: The iCarly Reboot And The Ticking Time Bomb That Is Dan Schneider
* 07/04/2021: The NY Times And It's Whitewash of Dan Schneider
There are a number of reasons why Dan Schneider hasn't had to face more intense scrutiny for his alleged actions as a showrunner. But a primary reason is that current and former executives at Viacom repeatedly chose protecting the cash cow that are his shows over the well-being of the people who worked with and for him. These allegations have been an open secret in Hollywood for at least a decade and Viacom's only apparent response has been to essentially give people money to shut up and go away.
From a strictly economic consideration, those moves make sense. Reruns of Schneider's shows continue to be a mainstay of the various Viacom teen networks and on Paramount+.
But what a moral cost they paid to keep the money flowing.
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ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER DAVID ZASLAV STORY
It's a fine line between providing insider access and falling in love with the conventional wisdom of the industry. While I generally a fan of Puck's media coverage, the publication is firmly in the "WBD/Comcast merger" camp, which might explain this awkward little love letter to Warner Bros. Discovery head David Zaslav from Puck's Jon Kelly that arrived in my inbox this morning:
He’s the protégé of Jack Welch, and in some ways a throwback to the earliest days of the cable business—the era before Fox New, MSNBC, and CNBC, the latter two of which he had a hand in creating, himself. He’s also at the forefront of our uncertain streaming revolution: a world-weary executive cognizant that streaming is the future, but unready to fully cut the cord with the (still healthily profitable) linear present and past. And yet he’s that rare bilingual inside player, able to speak the love language of Hollywood talent while simultaneously ensuring Wall Street analysts that his company’s stock won’t slip off the “BBB Cliff” toward junk status.
And last but not least, Zaz is a builder, unafraid to work out in the open. He used the tactics of clever M&A and belt-tightening to turn Discovery Communications into a peripheral, publicly traded player in the content wars. And his ability to rescue the WarnerMedia assets from AT&T, and assume the $50-odd billion debt bill that came with the check, is one of those generationally gutsy decisions that remakes industries one way or the other.
This week, Zaz defined the media landscape for three reasons that crescendo in significance: 1) he made the unpopular decision to kill off Batgirl, a $90 million DC movie that was fully baked, pissing off legions of fans, agents, and talent; 2) he announced in an earnings call that Warner Bros. Discovery would miss its 2023 EBITDA guidance by about 15 percent, foreshadowing more layoffs; 3) and now, as my brilliant partner Bill Cohan presaged, the market is becoming wise to the notion that Zaz probably can’t go it alone. As large as WBD has become, with an $88 billion enterprise value, it’s still a minnow in shark-infested waters.
Zaz’s moves, conundrums, and strategy defined the media world this week. And, naturally, it defined the coverage Puck. This is the sort of work that you can only find between our digital covers, and I recommend you dig in to the best media coverage in the business.
More than most industries, the entertainment business has always been deep into the cult of executive importance. Which executive heads a studio, network or media company does matter. But the press (and a lot of the industry in general) tend to treat the upper-level executives as some wise sages that see things no one else can.
Rather than suggesting the only war forward is another, even larger merger, perhaps the industry press should have been more skeptical of the Warner Bros. Discovery merger in the first place. And suggesting that a lack of size is what is standing in the way of WBD's success and profitability is just insane. One thing I learned from my years as a financial reporter is that mergers that happen because of synergy claims almost never deliver them. And saddling a company with tens of billions of new debt in order to make a merger happen isn't being a great visionary. It's a recipe for pain for everyone at the company. Except for the top executives and the company's bankers, who will make money regardless of what happens to the business.
I find it absolutely mind-boggling that otherwise rational industry analysts are arguing that the next step is to combine Warner Bros. Discovery and Comcast. Becoming larger has no impact on being smarter and no matter what you think of the executive suites at either company, size isn't the issue at hand. But it an easy argument to make instead of drilling down into what needs to happen at the respective companies.
Also, there is close to zero chance that a Biden Administration will give regulatory approval to a Warner Bros. Discovery merger with Comcast. And while the two companies could wait it out, can either entity afford to wait until 2025 to make such a major move?
BTW, this piece in Deadline provides a nice recap of the conventional behind-the-scenes thinking at the studio. I especially liked this description of what the piece argues is a misstep by Zaslav:
We are in a moment when consumers are reevaluating the need to pay monthly subscription fees to Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV+, Peacock, Paramount+ and Disney+. Why, after Kilar sacrificed the theatrical slate with all its production costs and neutered theatrical grosses, would it be wise to now let everyone know that HBO Max — or whatever they wind up calling it – will largely be comprised of retreads and Discovery content as originals are given lower priority?
ODDS AND SODS
* Posted on the official Facebook page of Olivia Newton-John earlier this afternoon: The 73-year-old "passed away peacefully at her Ranch in Southern California this morning, surrounded by family and friends. We ask that everyone please respect the family’s privacy during this very difficult time."
* HBO Max has completed the roll out of a new user experience on desktop, iOS and Android mobile devices, and Amazon Fire tablets, where available globally. Here's a list of new features available in the updated mobile and desktop app.
* The Boston Globe asked 7 female chefs to weigh in on The Bear.
* The FX series Fargo has added to the cast of its upcoming fifth installment with Joe Keery, Lamorne Morris and Richa Moorjani joining the previously announced Juno Temple, Jon Hamm and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
* Will Trent drama joins ABC’s midseason schedule. The series revolves around special agent Will Trent (Ramon Rodriguez) of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, who was abandoned at birth and endured a harsh coming-of-age in Atlanta’s overwhelmed foster care system. But now, determined to use his unique point of view to make sure no one is abandoned like he was, Will Trent has the highest clearance rate in the GBI.
WHAT'S NEW FOR MONDAY
Here's a quick rundown of all the new stuff premiering today on TV and streaming:
Code Name: Emperor (Netflix)
Darby & Joan Series Premiere (Acorn)
Hip Hop Atlanta Season Premiere (VH1)
Hip Hop Miami Season Premiere (VH1)
Murdoch Mysteries Season Fifteen Finale (Acorn)
Smothered Season Premiere (TLC)
Team Zenko Go Season Premiere (Netflix)
Click Here to see the list of all of the upcoming premiere dates for the next few months.
SEE YOU TUESDAY!
If you have any feedback, send it along to Rick@AllYourScreens.com and follow me on Twitter @aysrick.